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Brydge Pro Plus review: an almost awesome iPad laptop

The Brydge Pro Plus has both great and terrible timing. Originally conceived as a niche product to leverage iPadOS’ janky-but-somewhat-useful pointer support, the Pro Plus’ trackpad suddenly looked a lot more practical once Apple vastly improved the feature with this month’s unexpected release of iPadOS 13.4. Now, the iPad-plus-Brydge-keyboard combination can be more laptop-like than ever.

Brydge’s problem, however, is that Apple also announced its own iPad keyboard with a trackpad and a wild floating design, potentially Sherlocking the smaller company. Brydge’s keyboard costs less, so that’s not necessarily a killer. But there’s another problem: it’s not fully compatible with all of the iPad’s new trackpad features.

Still, the Pro Plus has some things going for it. It’s available now, it’s much less expensive, and it has a more traditional laptop-style form factor — if that’s what you’re into.

Brydge has been making iPad keyboards for a long time now, and the Pro Plus is a twist on its existing model for the latest iPad Pro design. Last year I said that keyboard was the best option for anyone wanting their iPad to work more like a laptop. The Pro Plus works largely the same way — it charges over USB-C, connects over Bluetooth and you slot the iPad’s bottom corners into two rubberised hinges that don’t obscure the screen. Brydge also includes a leather back cover that attaches to your iPad magnetically, though I couldn’t use the one that came with my review unit because it wouldn’t fit my 2020 iPad’s larger camera bump. (Brydge is shipping an updated cover with orders made after that iPad’s announcement.)

Purely as a keyboard, I don’t have many complaints. I’ve been going back and forth between the Pro Plus and Apple’s desktop Magic Keyboard this week, and even though I’m testing the smaller 11-inch Brydge. it doesn’t feel cramped and I prefer its larger key travel. Unlike Apple’s own iPad keyboards, Brydge also includes a function row at the top, including controls for screen brightness, backlighting, and so on. For me, at least, this is a better feeling keyboard than anything Apple makes.

With the Pro Plus attached, the 11-inch iPad Pro is transformed into an adorable laptop. The keyboard’s design is really in keeping with the iPad itself; it’s slightly thicker than the tablet but its aluminum frame has similar proportions. When you fold it up you’re left with something that’s easy to toss into a bag, while the flexible hinges make it easy to use on your lap. It weighs a little over a pound, and the tablet-keyboard combination is about half a pound lighter than a MacBook Air.

The trackpad is also very good given the size constraints. It’s hard to see how Brydge could have made it any bigger, at least on the 11-inch model, but it’s still pretty small. For comparison, it’s dwarfed by the 12-inch MacBook’s and feels more like a Surface Pro’s. I don’t really find the size to be a problem for regular pointer control — it’s more than big enough to zip the cursor from one side of the screen to another. But since the clicking action uses a regular “diving board” mechanism that pivots from the top, it means the area that you can actually press down on is pretty small. You’re left with a little less space to work with when you’re holding down the button with your thumb; I found myself using tap-to-click a lot, which I never do on a Mac.

It’ll be fine for anyone not used to Apple’s luxuriously huge laptop trackpads, I think. But the size is the least of this trackpad’s problems.

If you haven’t used it yet, know that iPadOS 13.4’s pointer support is genuinely delightful. The way the blob-like cursor pings around with momentum and transforms into different shapes, locking onto your likely tap targets with first-person shooter-style auto-aim, is the most fun I’ve had with a mouse since the first time I went to Disneyland. I was always skeptical about the idea of bolting Mac-style mouse pointers onto iOS, but that’s not what Apple did here. It feels completely native to the iPad and doesn’t compromise anything about the finger-first UI.

Much of that is true when you use the Brydge Pro Plus. The trackpad works fine as a single finger facsimile; it’s responsive and precise, and better in that regard than many laptops. My primary use case for an iPad trackpad is text editing, and despite the slightly cramped size the Pro Plus is fine when you want to select a bunch of text or move your cursor around without reaching up to touch the screen. That alone is enough to make this the most useful keyboard Brydge has ever made.

The real problem is that its multi-finger gestures are inconsistent at best and unusable at worst. Two-finger scrolling does work, for example, but its behavior is completely different across apps. It’s okay in Safari, if a little jerky. It’s out of control in Twitter, zooming you through your timeline at an unreadable pace. And in Slack, it seems to exhibit entirely different speeds whether you’re scrolling on the channel list or the chat itself.

Three-finger gestures, meanwhile, aren’t supported at all. iPadOS 13.4 includes iPhone X-style features like a three-finger swipe up to get back to the home screen or bring up the multitasking menu, depending on how long you hold it. That just doesn’t work on the Brydge Pro Plus. There are replacement solutions — in this case, you swipe down at the bottom of the screen to bring up the dock, then again to go home, then again to multitask.

You can also resort to more complicated workarounds by diving into the Accessibility settings. There, you can assign a three-finger tap to the app switcher, which helps somewhat. Some of Brydge’s suggested settings mean you have the virtual home button floating on your screen when the keyboard is disconnected. None of this is as slick as what Apple has designed.

The reason I know that is because I’ve also been using my iPad Pro with the Magic Trackpad that Apple ships as an option for the iMac, and the experience is dramatically better. Scrolling is smooth everywhere, the three-finger gestures are great, and you can click anywhere on the surface. That should also be the case with Apple’s upcoming Magic Keyboard for the iPad.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about that keyboard, since it isn’t going to be available until May. Weight is a big one — it looks like it’ll have to be pretty heavy to suspend the iPad in air like that without the whole thing tipping over. It’s also not clear just how flexible the viewing angles will be. But it does at least seem obvious that the trackpad will work better than Brydge’s.

This isn’t necessarily Brydge’s fault. The Pro Plus was evidently designed before iPadOS 13.4, and it would have been about as good a solution for the prior state of affairs as anyone could have hoped for. Brydge tells me it’ll be working on improvements and making them available for anyone who buys the Pro Plus, but it’s not clear how extensive any tweaks can be. And you know what we always say about buying hardware based on future software promises.

Right now I can’t recommend the Brydge Pro Plus to anyone who’s considering dropping $299 or $349 on Apple’s Magic Keyboard next month — you should at least wait to see how that turns out. But at $199 for the 11-inch model and $229 for the 12.9-inch, you are saving a fair bit of money with the Brydge, and if you care more about the typing experience and laptop form factor it might still be a solid option. I should reiterate that this is the best Brydge keyboard yet.

But the Pro Plus is a frustrating device, because Brydge clearly did everything it could to make it work before having the rug swept out from under it by iPadOS 13.4. That means the Brydge Pro is a better product than it otherwise would have been, but maybe not as good as it theoretically could be, and also likely not as good as its impending competitor. While the Pro Plus comes real close to turning the iPad Pro into an awesome little laptop, right now it isn’t quite enough.

Every smart device now requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it — contracts that no one actually reads. It’s impossible for us to read and analyze every single one of these agreements. But we started counting exactly how many times you have to hit “agree” to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.

The Brydge Pro Plus itself doesn’t have any terms or conditions required to use it, unless you count its limited one-year warranty. You also need to have already given the okay to Apple’s terms of service and warranty agreement in order to use the iPad Pro in the first place, of course.

This Article was first published on theverge.com

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